James Randi calls him a fraud who tricks people with magic tricks of "the kind that used to be on the back of cereal boxes". Magical legend Jim Steinmeyer on the other hand says that he's "one of the greatest magicians of all time". Scientists at Stanford Research Institute believed he had real magic powers. Most of the public know him simply as the guy who bends spoons. But the documentary above, The Secret Life of Uri Geller, explores a different side to the controversial 'psychic' entertainer: his involvement with both Mossad and the C.I.A. Did they believe he truly had paranormal powers, or was he being used by one side or the other (or both) for their own ends? Well worth a watch, no matter where your opinion on the man lies.
Do identical twins share a telepathic connection? Could clairvoyance be used to win money at casinos? Does the future affect the past? These are some of the questions being put forward - and perhaps answered - at the 56th Annual Convention of the Parapsychology Association being held this weekend in Viterbo, Italy.
A common skeptical response to claims of telepathy or clairvoyance is to ask why, if such talents exist, are they not used to win money from casinos. Psi researchers Dick Bierman and Thomas Rabeyron decided to put the idea to the test, and began by running simulations of a 32 trial remote viewing experiment. They found that if a viewer was able to perform with an effect size of around 0.35, and used a simple red/black betting strategy, they could multiply their starting capital 10 times over. Consulting 17 actual experiments on remote viewing, the pair found that the data showed a mean scoring rate (in a binary situation) of around 63%, leading them to state that "if these results could be confirmed this would falsify theories that predict that it is impossible to use psi in a consistent and robust way". Perhaps with a bit of humour, Bierman and Rabeyron also noted that those sort of results could signal "the end of the financial problems in the field of psi research".
Another research project to be discussed at the convention is a piece of collaborative research between centres in Copenhagen, Gothenburg and London, in which identical twins who report "exceptional experiences of an apparent telepathic and synchronous nature" are being recruited for a future study. Researchers note that some promising results have emerged in experiments where one twin is monitored with psychophysiological sensors while the other (isolated) twin experiences random startle stimuli. A questionnaire found that 60% of twins surveyed reported exceptional experiences, with about 11% reporting frequent telepathic experiences, often concerning the bodily welfare of the other twin, while others reported shared dreams. Furthermore, identical twins reported having these experiences significantly more often than 'regular' twins. Researchers hope to use the survey, and other testing, to select a pool of twins whose future experimental results will give a larger effect size than has been achieved with psi experiments in the past. Whether they'll also be sent to Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is an unanswered question...
And in other experiment on the same theme as the widely reported precognition study by psychologist Daryl Bem (though not a replication), scientists found that research subjects reacted quicker to a symbol on the first time through the experiment, if they were shown the same symbol in the second phase. What's more, with the subjects split into two groups based on rational and intuitive thinking styles, it was found that the 'intuitives' were responsible for the entire effect! That group on its own showed an effect that, by luck alone, would happen only 1 in 1000 times.
Other papers to be presented at the convention include research into precognitive dreams, possible links between geomagnetic activity and psychic awareness, and correlations between psi abilities and schizotypy. You can read through the full list of abstracts and the convention program via the embedded PDF below:
Russell Targ is a well-known figure in the field of parapsychology, being a key figure (along with Hal Puthoff) in experimentation with techniques of 'remote viewing' in the 1970s. The talk above was given last month at the 'ExTED' conference "Brother Can You Spare a Paradigm" (formerly TEDxWestHollywood until TED withdrew their support in the wake of last month's controversy) in Los Angeles. In the talk he regales the crowd with tales of his work with everyone from psychics like Pat Price to the military and C.I.A. Told with a nice dose of humour, it's a fun little talk that also acts as a neat introduction to this topic if you haven't read the books about it.
The University of Chicago Press is currently offering Stephen Braude's book The Gold Leaf Lady and other Parapsychological Investigations as a free ebook download.
For over thirty years, Stephen Braude has studied the paranormal in everyday life, from extrasensory perception and psychokinesis to mediumship and materialization. The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations is a highly readable and often amusing account of his most memorable encounters with such phenomena. Here Braude recounts in fascinating detail five particular cases—some that challenge our most fundamental scientific beliefs and others that expose our own credulousness.
Braude begins with a south Florida woman who can make thin gold-colored foil appear spontaneously on her skin. He then travels to New York and California to test psychokinetic superstars—and frauds—like Joe Nuzum, who claim to move objects using only their minds. Along the way, Braude also investigates the startling allegations of K.R., a policeman in Annapolis who believes he can transfer images from photographs onto other objects—including his own body—and Ted Serios, a deceased Chicago elevator operator who could make a variety of different images appear on Polaroid film. Ultimately, Braude considers his wife’s surprisingly fruitful experiments with astrology, which she has used to guide professional soccer teams to the top of their leagues, as well as his own personal experiences with synchronicity—a phenomenon, he argues, that may need to be explained in terms of a refined, extensive, and dramatic form of psychokinesis.
Heady, provocative, and brimming with eye-opening details and suggestions, The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations will intrigue both adherents and detractors of its controversial subject matter alike.
For all you old-schoolers, the hardcover of The Gold Leaf Lady is available from Amazon.com (I have it, and it's excellent).
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Another nicely done piece by Jason Silva, though my phlegmatic personality sometimes wants him to just chill a bit and get some of those concepts across without the adrenalin-infused hype and activity.
Created by Jason Silva in collaboration with CITIZEN. Follow Jason on twitter @JASONSILVA
This video is a non-commercial work created to inspire, made for educational purposes, inspired by the ideas of Douglas Hofstadter explored in the magnificent book GODEL, ESCHER, BACH: An Eternal Golden Braid.
It offers my interpretation of Strange Loops of Self Reference, recursion, and the emergence of consciousness and self-awareness:
"To Hofstadter, the human mind is a bright, shimmering, self-sustaining miracle of philosophical bootstrappery" - Lev Grossman.
"You know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your whole life" - The Matrix
It is also inspired by some of the writing of Erik Davis in Techgnosis.com about the hero's journey taken by NEO in the Matrix in order to understand who he is:
"Neo must then face his own Cartesian "passage through madness," melting into a mirror that alludes not only to Lewis Carroll but to the mystic-psychotic collapse and disappearance of the externalized ego that stabilizes our inner void. As Neo phases out of the Matrix, he opens up, however briefly, the fractured bardo that is the secret thrill of every fan of the "false reality" genre: the moment when baseline reality dissolves but no new world has yet emerged in its pixelating wake. This is the most radical moment of the cogito, but it's tough to sustain."
It features the track "The Awakening" by Andy Quinn
Full credits for everything used in the remix at Vimeo.
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Well-known remote viewer Paul H. Smith has announced the passing of a (perhaps *the*) pioneer in the field, Ingo Swann, aged 79. A double degree graduate from Westminster College in Utah (in biology and art), Swann also served time in Korea in the U.S Army, before later pursuing a career in art and becoming involved with research into anomalous powers of the human mind:
Swann's active participation in parapsychology research began in 1969 when he was 36 years old. During the next twenty years he worked only in controlled laboratory settings with scientific researchers. Although he lectured widely on the importance of psychic faculties and potentials, he has never publicly demonstrated his abilities. Because of his participation in hundreds of thousands of experimental trials, author Martin Ebon wrote of him as "parapsychology's most tested guinea pig," and Psychic News and other media often refer to him as "the scientific psychic."
...In 1970-71 Swann experimented with Cleve Backster in attempting to influence plants by mental activity. In 1971-72 psychokinetic experiments involved successfully influencing temperature recorded in a controlled setting devised by parapsychologists Gertrude Schmeidler and Larry Lewis at City College, New York. this involved PK effects upon target thermistors (temperature measuring devices) in insulted thermos bottles at a distance of 25 feet from Swann...
Swann was also the subject of experiments in out-of-body travel, or psychic perception at a distance. These took place during 1971-73 at the American Society for Psychical Research. They involved Swann sitting in a chair and attempting to project his consciousness into sealed boxes on a small platform several feet above his head, in which there was a target symbol completely shielded from view. Swann was monitored by electrodes that would have recorded any movement from the chair.
Under these difficult laboratory conditions, Swann nevertheless scored significant successes in describing the targets. In one test he was actually able to state correctly that a light that should have illuminated the target was inoperative. There was no normal way of ascertaining this fact without opening the box.
In 1972-73, at the American Society for Psychical Research, Swann began suggesting experimental protocols to test for the existence of mind-dynamic processes that would enhance ESP and Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler, he coined the term "remote viewing" to describe the experiments in which subjects attempted to view targets at a far distance. His original remote-viewing protocols were later utilized and expanded upon in collaboration with the researchers Dr. H.E. Puthoff and Russell Targ. Other laboratories ultimately repeated various kinds of remote-viewing experiments.
...Even in his retirement, Ingo Swann maintained an interest in the progress of our understanding of human mental functioning, and was an avid observer not only of the human condition itself, but of the inroads being made to discover the full potential of the mind. At the time of his death, on February 1, 2013, Ingo was well along in the process of creating a new book featuring his marvelous art work.
For more information, read Paul Smith's complete profile of Ingo Swann, and also check out Ingo's website biomindsuperpowers.com which features Ingo's thoughts on parapsychological topics, as well as some of his artwork.
Jeff Kripal is a Professor of Comparative Religion at Rice University. He's also the author of two absolutely fascinating recent books which touch on aspects of the paranormal, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred and Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. If those sound like topics you'd find interesting, then you'll probably enjoy this TEDx talk that Jeff gave in November 2012 on "impossible things":
There are complexities and wonderment in life we simply cannot explain. When we look to science and religion, we can't always find the answers. Have you ever experienced deja-vu, coincidences, or dreams that may have seemed real? Have you ever wondered what exactly qualifies as human consciousness? Reality vs. Abstract? So have we...join us...in a discussion to explore these and more paradoxical ways of thinking.
I strongly recommend picking up Jeff's books, I found both super interesting and catalysts to deeper thinking on these topics.
On behalf of everyone at the Grail, happy birthday Greg! Blowing out 42 candles on your birthday cake is an ancient method of achieving an altered state of consciousness, during which the meaning of life will be revealed to you. Have a good one mate, and I hope there are many more to come.
For some time I've had James Carpenter's First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life sitting on my reading list, but with multiple projects (and setbacks) happening I haven't yet had time to sit down with it properly. But I thought that I should at least mention it here, as I'm sure many Grailers would find it of interest. The book's PR promises no less than "a new model for understanding" anomalous abilities, such as those studied in parapsychology. Now there's not shortage of theorists out there in parapsychology, throwing out all sorts of ideas - but Carpenter is no crazy amateur. He's been involved in parapsychology research for many decades, and you only need to look at those who have commented on his book to know that he's got the attention of the field. Dean Radin labels First Sight as a "refreshingly novel approach to understanding psychic phenomena", Daryl Bem notes that the evidence Carpenter "marshals in defense of this thesis is persuasive and serves to unify many phenomena associated with psychic functioning", and Stanley Krippner says it is "a model of the mind that is both innovative and compelling".
I've embedded a video above of Carpenter describing the First Sight theory, but for those unable to view it, here's a short passage in which he outlines the theory using the analogy of lightning:
Consider physical lightning bolts. For thousands of years they were just about all that people knew about electricity. They were unpredictable, awesome, terrifying and beautiful. The ancients thought that when they erupted, the dormant sky had become suddenly and fiercely alive. Now we understand that lightning is one expression of electricity, and electricity is actually everywhere. Electric charge is a basic constituent of every atom. It helps make up the stuff of our bodies, it connects each synaptic chain. It tells your heart when to beat. As we came to understand electricity we mastered it. Now you hold a domesticated lightning bolt in your hand when you use your cell phone. In a few moments you can use it to speak to someone in Beijing or Adelaide or Buenos Aires. The awesome anomaly is not anomalous at all and we have tamed it.
The lightning bolts that we call paranormal experiences are also surprising and beautiful and disturbing. They shake the ground of solid reality. They seem different and anomalous. According to First Sight theory, they are not really anomalous either.
This book is about a radically new way of thinking about these things. It presents a revolutionary understanding of how each of us fits within the world and how we are put together within ourselves. A lot of evidence suggests that the theory is true. In light of this, much of what we normally assume will need to be changed.
First Sight theory proposes that, like electricity, psychic experience is actually going on all the time. Also like electricity, it is almost always out of sight in its functioning. Occasionally, it will be expressed in obvious ways, like lightning bolts, but normally it is unconscious. What is it for? According to the theory, it is the leading edge of the unconscious processes that the mind uses to construct all its experience and all its behavior. Because it traffics with things that have not reached the physical senses, it is our first line of engagement with the world, our first outpost of information. This is why the theory reconstrues what has been called second sight and calls it First Sight.
Two years ago we posted news of a study by Professor Daryl Bem which seemed to support the idea of 'presentiment', which went on to cause no end of controversy within scientific and skeptical circles (and continues to do so). And now here comes another one on the same topic, although not directly related to Bem: a broad review of experiments so far exploring the presentiment effect, titled "Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: a meta-analysis. The paper is fairly heavy on terminology and statistics, but here's the basic summary (though 'basic' doesn't do it justice, given the implications of a presentiment effect being proven):
It has been known for some time that arousing and neutral stimuli produce somewhat different post-stimulus physiological responses in humans. However, what is remarkable is that many of the studies examined here make the claim that, for instance, the same physiological measure that yields a differential post-stimulus response to two stimulus classes also yields a differential pre-stimulus response to those same stimulus classes, prior even to the random selection of the stimulus type by the computer. Authors of these studies often refer to the effect as presentiment (sensing an event before it occurs) or unexplained anticipatory activity; we favor the latter terminology as it describes the phenomenon without implying that the effect truly reflects a reversal of the usual forward causality.
Basically, data from experiments appears to show that the body begins reacting to a future event from 2 to 10 seconds *before the event happens*. Needless to say, this is not part of the canon of the current scientific paradigm...
The physiological responses mentioned above are recorded from various sources, including skin conductance, heart rate, blood volume, respiration, electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, pupil dilation, blink rate, and/or blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses.
The meta-analysis found a small effect size (though many scientific and medical breakthroughs have been smaller), with a high level of significance. The analysis also seemed to rule out the chance that the results were an artifact of poor experimental design, "as higher-quality experiments that addressed known methodological concerns (randomization and expectation bias analysis) produced a quantitatively if not significantly higher overall ES and level of significance than lower-quality studies."
The authors also analysed data from emotional physiology studies that were not investigating the presentiment effect, and found that this data also contained evidence of the phenomenon.
The paper addresses a number of possible 'mundane' explanations for the observed presentiment effect, but found no smoking gun. In the final summary...
...the results of this meta-analysis indicate a clear effect, but we are not at all clear about what explains it. We conclude that if this seemingly anomalous anticipatory activity is real, it should be possible to replicate it in multiple independent laboratories using agreed-upon protocols, dependent variables, and analysis methods. Once this occurs, the problem can be approached with greater confidence and rigor. The cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.
And by that last sentence, I think they mean "well most people would probably describe this as paranormal, but we know we'll lose all the skeptics and scientists if we do that so we'll explicitly disavow it"...
(hat tip to @DavidBMetcalfe)